musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Adonia - 16th century Italian music to lament a fallen god"

Dir: Mara Winter

rec: Feb 16 - 21, 2021, Hofstetten-Flüh (CH), Sankt Nikolaus
Passacaille - PAS 1112 (© 2022) (66'31")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance] [Invocation] Angelo POLIZIANO (1454-1494): [Io chiamo te per cui si volge e move] (Se tu sapesti); [Birth of Adonis] Francesco BENDUSI (fl c1553): Il ben ti venga - Bandura - La Falilela [9]; anon: Viva viva il galanti li amorosi tucti quanti che non; [Là nella region ricca e felice] (Se per fedel); [To the underworld with Persephone] Philippe VERDELOT (c1480/85-c1530/32): O dolce notte [5]; anon: [In una parte del superbo e bello uscio] (without title); Jacques ARCADELT (1507-1568): Donna, quando pietosa [7]; [Aphrodite and Adonis in love] anon: [Co i bianchi cigni] (Poiché la langua mia); Joan Ambrosio DALZA (fl 1508): Calata di Strambotti - Saltarello - Piva [3]; Jacques ARCADELT: Il bianco e dolce cigno [6]; Bor ZULJAN: Improvisation on Se lieta; Philippe VERDELOT: Se lieta e grata e grata morte [4]; [Death of Adonis] Giovanni Giacomo GASTOLDI: Caccia d'Amore [12]; Alessandro DEMOPHON (15th C): [O del mondo Tiranno] (Vidi hor cogliendo rose) [2]; Cipriano DE RORE (1515/16-1565): Mia benigna fortuna [8]; Adrian WILLAERT (c1490-1562): Questa anima gentil [10]; [Adonia: Ecstatic lamentation] Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (1470-after 1534): Non val acqua [1]; Giorgio MAINERIO (c1535-1582): Tedescha [11]; [Son due fiaccole ardenti] (Schiarazula marazula) [11]
(Between round brackets are the original titles)

Sources: Ottaviano Petrucci, ed., [1] Frottole, libro I, 1504; [2] Frottole, libro VII, 1507; [3] Joan Ambrosio Dalza, Intabulatura de lauto, libro quarto, 1508; [4] Adrian Willaert, ed., Intavolatura de li madrigali di Verdelotto da cantare et sonare nel lauto, intavolati per Messer Adriano, 1536; [5] Philippe Verdelot, Il terzo libro de madrigali, 1537; Jacques Arcadelt, [6] Il primo libro de' madrigali a 4 voci, 1539; ]7] Il vero secondo libro de madrigali, 1539; [8] Cipriano de Rore, Tutti i madrigali a quattro voci, 1544; [9] Francesco Bendusi, Opera nova de balli, 1553; [10] Adrian Willaert, Musica Nova, 1559; [11] Giorgio Mainerio, Il primo libro de balli, 1578; [12] Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi, Balletti a cinque voci, 1591

Miriam Trevisan, soprano, percussion; Darina Ablogina, Luis Martinez Pueyo, Charlotte Schneider, Mara Winter, transverse flute; Bor Zuljan, lute; Clara de Asis, percussion

Many poets and composers have been inspired by characters from the classical antiquity, either historical or mythological. One of them is Adonis, the mortal lover of the goddess Aphrodite. "One day, Adonis was gored by a wild boar during a hunting trip and died in Aphrodite's arms as she wept. His blood mingled with her tears and became the anemone flower. Aphrodite declared the Adonia festival commemorating his tragic death, which was celebrated by women every year in midsummer. During this festival, Greek women would plant "gardens of Adonis", small pots containing fast-growing plants, which they would set on top of their houses in the hot sun. The plants would sprout, but soon wither and die. Then the women would mourn the death of Adonis, tearing their clothes and beating their breasts in a public display of grief." (Wikipedia).

The character of Adonis turns up in some operas and cantatas from the baroque era. One of the best-known works is Venus and Adonis, a masque by John Blow. Another relatively well-known piece is Venere e Adone or Il giardino di Amore, a serenata by Alessandro Scarlatti. Henri Desmarest composed an opera about Vénus et Adonis. Venus is the Roman counterpart of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. The ensemble Phaedrus took the Adonia festival as the starting point of a programme with music from the Renaissance. However, it seems that few, if any composers of the Renaissance have set texts on Adonis and his fate. That is the reason that the performers have applied here the wide-spread contrafactum practice. They have selected fragments from two literary sources: La favola d'Adone by Girolamo Parabosco (1545) and L'Adone by Giovan Battista Marino (1623). This process was made easy because both literary works are written in the ottava rima reale, a variation of the Italian strambotto stanza form, composed of eight 11-syllable lines, rhyming abababcc. This is also the form used in Italian frottolas of the 15th and 16th centuries. Most of the music has been taken from a manuscript preserved in the Biblioteca Estense e Universitaria in Modena.

The programme is a mixture of pieces by famous masters, such as Jacques Arcadelt, Adrian Willaert and Cipriano de Rore, lesser-known composers as Philippe Verdelot and Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi, and some anonymous composers. Some pieces are performed vocally, either with a new text or - when they apparently were considered appropriate - the original lyrics. The programme also includes instrumental items, either originally written for instrumental performance, such as dances (saltarello, piva), or pieces that were written as vocal works. In such cases one may wonder why they were chosen and in what way they can be connected to the story of Adonis. The titles of the various chapters, in which the programme has been divided, may give some clues, but they are not conclusive.

Apart from the application of the contrafactum practice, this disc is also notable for the instrumental line-up. In the renaissance melody instruments were usually built in consorts: the instruments ranged from descant to bass, reflecting the various pitches of the human voice. This can be explained from the fact that before the late 16th century the amount of music specifically written for instruments was rather small, and (consorts of) instruments mostly played vocal music. The 16th century also saw the emergence of music specifically written for a consort of instruments. Such consorts could comprise various instruments, such as viols or recorders - today the most common form for performances of consort music - or an ensemble of instruments from various families, the so-called broken consort. A consort of transverse flutes, as is playing here, is rather rare these days, although Ramée released a couple of discs with music performed by the Attaignant Consort in 2007 and 2013 respectively. In the booklets accompanying these discs, it is mentioned that such consorts were quite common in the renaissance, and their existence is documented for England, France and Germany in the first half of the 16th century. The respective programmes omit any Italian music.

That makes this recording interesting from the angle of performance practice, as the liner-notes refer to iconographic evidence that flutes, which were originally mostly played by military musicians, were played in consort from the beginning of the 16th century onwards, also in Italy. "Around the beginning of the 16th century, the flute began to be depicted in a starkly different context: in groups of two or three similar-looking flutes being played together in informal social settings. For example, in an engraving from Bergamo by Andrea Previtali dated around 1510, the flute players are dressed in the attire of Swiss or German mercenary soldiers, but their performance context has become more social, situated together around a table reading from part books." How wide-spread this practice has been, may be a matter of debate. The liner-notes also mention musical part books and treatises by several authors, but none of them is Italian.

It is not only the instrumental pieces that are played by the flute consort, but it also accompanies the soprano in a number of vocal items. They blend very well, which means that the soprano is not a soloist, but part of the ensemble - as she should be. Unfortunately it also implies that the text is not always clearly intelligible. I sometimes found the flutes a bit too loud. In some dance items they are joined by percussion, and in a few pieces that is too dominant. The combination of flutes and percussion is not something I greatly cherish. That is also due to the rather reverberant acoustic. I would prefer a more intimate atmosphere for a programme like this.

Having said that, I have certainly enjoyed both the music and the way it is performed. Miriam Trevisan has a lovely voice, which is perfectly suited to this repertoire. I can't remember having heard her before, but I hope to hear more from her in the future. The playing of the flutes and the lute is also top-class. In some pieces the performers add diminutions written by Mara Winter, reflecting a popular practice in the decades around 1600.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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